If you missed Kimberly Alexander’s wonderful April 24, 2021, talk on “18th Century Shoes and Their Secret Stories,” or want to revisit the presentation or share it with a friend, the video is now live on the JASNA Southwest YouTube channel. The chat is also available. In addition, Alexander provided a bibliography for further reading.
The beautifully illustrated presentation took attendees on a tour of women’s footwear from the 1740s through the 1790s. She described early branding efforts and the allure of purchasing shoes from some of the leading manufacturers of the day, such as Rideout and Davis in London. Many shoes could be worn on either foot, which allowed women to alternate how they wore the shoes in order to reduce overall wear. Alexander explained that silk brocade shoes might cost 18 shillings, while more common footwear made of wool might cost four to six shillings. Because of the high cost of footwear, some 75 percent of the shoes from the era that still exist today have been repaired and altered.
Alexander also discussed the impact of tariffs and taxes on the American colonies, the prominence of red for wedding shoes and how shoes were made or altered to relieve gout or disabilities. She also shared information on concealed shoes that have been found in chimneys or boarded up inside walls. Following the presentation, she offered a show and tell of shoes and buckles from the era and then provided even more information during a particularly lively Q&A session.
The book is a product of eight years of research during which Alexander visited 30 collections on both sides of the Atlantic.
Alexander is on the faculty of the History Department of the University of New Hampshire, where she is director of the museum studies program and a lecturer. She has held curatorial positions at several New England Museums, including the MIT Museum, the Peabody Essex Museum and Strawbery Banke. Her book Treasures Afoot: Shoe Stories from the Georgian Era (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018) traces the history of early Anglo-American footwear from the 1740s through the 1790s. Her forthcoming book, Fashioning the New England Family, will be available in late 2021. She was guest curator of the exhibit “Fashioning the New England Family” at the Massachusetts Historical Society.